Do Nofollow Links Count?

If you are someone who has ever spent time link building, performing digital PR, or even just generally working in SEO, then you’ve seen rel=”nofollow” tag before. It’s one of the most common HTML tags around, and it’s been around for quite a while. But it’s also one of the most misunderstood tags in SEO. 

Many SEOs still cringe when they hear ‘nofollow’. Introduced in 2005, the nofollow tag was a way for search engines to combat comment link spam and other unhealthy practices. Not long after, it became Google’s recommended tag for any website publishing a paid or sponsored link.

So what’s the problem with just adding a little tag to your links? Well, a website linking externally to another website is one of the clearest ways in which it can pass trust and authority on to that other site when Google ‘follows’ the link. The nofollow tag essentially curbs that trust factor by (as was understood to be the case) ensuring that Google does not follow these links to the external website during a crawl, whether it be because it is a paid link or anything else. It essentially tells Google not to associate the referring website with the referenced website. 

The result? Many SEOs jumped to the conclusion that nofollow links were worthless to SEO and that the tag prevented a link from passing any authority or trust from one website to another. This point of view was further supported when Google commented on the matter of nofollow links: 

“In general, we don’t follow them. This means that Google does not transfer PageRank or anchor text across these links.”

This might seem quite clear cut, but it’s not. “In general, we don’t follow them” means that sometimes they do. Nofollow links are not invisible to Google – they know that they exist and, while we can’t pretend to understand exactly how Google’s algorithms work, we have to assume that they take notice when indexing a nofollow link – especially a significant one. 

If a small local business earns a high profile nofollow link from a large regional news publication, in an article that features their brand name and business, then Google is going to take notice. Here in Embryo’s digital PR team, we deal with media links all the time – and it’s a simple fact of the job that most media websites publish links with the nofollow tag as a default. 

Some SEOs still think that earning a nofollow link from a 93 DA national news publication is a wasted opportunity – but the evidence shows that the tag doesn’t have the negative SEO impact that many believe to be the case. 

In fact, research from Semrush shows that #1 ranked web pages have, on average, 20-40% nofollow links. That’s a stat worth taking notice of. If nofollow links have zero SEO impact, then why do high ranking pages and websites have so many? Many in the industry now believe that Google actually values nofollow links from strong pages higher than dofollow links from weak pages. 

It’s important to remember that for Google, contextuality is king. While some still believe that nofollow links are an SEO dead-zone, the truth is that if you are earning high authority news links rich in contextuality, that drive traffic and that position your brand as an authority, then you’re doing it right. 

If you want to find out more about links and how our digital PR team earns coverage for brands online across national, international, regional, business and consumer publications, get in touch with Embryo today. We’re always on hand for a chat about what we do, and how our strategies can help you to excel online.


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